Class #4863

Standing on the Arms

35 min - Class


Learn how you can start to incorporate upper body strength into your practice with this Mat workout by Cara Reeser. She progresses in her series adding Front and Back Planks so that you can begin to work on standing on your arms. These skills will give you the support you need so that you can build strength without pain.
What You'll Need: Mat, Yoga Block (2), Hand Weights (2), Theraband

About This Video


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Welcome everyone, welcome back. This is class number five in upper body health. The series we're calling upper body health, class number five. So we are moving into what it means to stand on our arms today. So we have two classes.

They're gonna deal with arm standing. Class five, the one we're doing right now, we're gonna be looking at what it is to do arm standing in forward planks and in back planks, both which come up in Pilates, right? So we're gonna be doing sort of a flowish warmup, but then we're gonna be heading right into sort of a lot of protocols. We're gonna be doing a lot of protocols that we've already done and bringing them up a notch, right? So we are going to use our Theraband, our yoga blocks and our arm weights and again, I'm using cork yoga blocks.

For this practice and in class six, the cork yoga blocks are particularly lovely, 'cause they're a little heavier, but the foam ones are fine and arm weights, I'm using a three pound arm weight and I'm using same medium weight in the Theraband. Okay, so we're gonna get started and we are gonna come onto, let's see, let's get our yoga blocks and we're gonna start with a little bit of practice that has to do with the ways in which we work external rotation in our arms and in our forearms, right? Because when we're standing on our arms, one of the things we really wanna be sure of is that we have a really strong sense of external rotation and no matter which way our palm is facing, right? So we're gonna just geek out on that to start. I love this series.

We're gonna be on laying our back. Let's start with just our right arm. So we're going to stand our hand into the yoga block. You wanna be in full wrist extension, meaning you want this flat top side of the yoga block to be directly facing the ceiling. This is probably already kind of like, whoa, my wrist, right?

But we need this flexibility and this power in our hands and forearm for arm standing in planks. So we're gonna start here and then I'm gonna ask you to internally rotate your arm. You're trying to keep this block the same and the internal rotation is coming from the upper arm and then externally rotate the upper arm, right? So I'm internally rotating my upper arm bone in the socket and I'm externally rotating it. Let's do that one more time.

Right, remember our scapula are free, they are not being pulled down. Now, I'm gonna keep the upper arm bone externally rotated and now I'm gonna do something really cool. I'm gonna spiral my forearm. This is called supination and this is called pronation, right? But my upper arm bone is not changing.

This is how we make changes in the direction of where our fingers are facing and keep a really strong base of support in the upper arm and shoulder. So now, just feeling that, you're gonna bend your elbow, right and you wanna be at 90 degree angle. I can't really tell if I am, but I'm trying. And then I'm gonna spiral the block again. I've got supination.

Here I've got pronation. I'm keeping my upper arm stable. This is similar to what we did when we did the rotator cuff work with the angle of the arm staying still, and then I'm spiraling and I can really feel my forearm muscles starting to fatigue, right? So I wanna be getting into a little bit of activity in my forearm and then I want you to just slowly lower the block down, just hover it there for a second. Just feel that turn your bicep on a little and then we're gonna put that block down.

We're gonna go to the other side. So you're gonna take this block up, right? You're gonna make sure your scapula is free and then you're gonna start with that internal rotation. I'm trying to keep the top of the block parallel to ceiling and floor, right? And then I'm gonna internally rotate and externally rotate and low and behold, right, the two sides are not the same.

I have very different range on one side and so that's fine. It's good information for you. And then the next time I have this ex whoops, that was my forearm, externally rotated, I'm gonna now keep my upper arm extremely rotated and I'm gonna spin, right? I am working with the pronation and the supination of my forearm and I'm really working my wrist extension, right? So we've gotta think into like getting our wrist to sort of tolerate some of the work that is in a plank, just like we've had to in this series, work on tolerating moving our necks, it's a very similar type of thing and then we're gonna do this little spin here, right?

You could visualize maybe you had something like a nice glass of champagne balancing on this block and you don't wanna tip it. So you're trying to keep this very clear 90 degree angle of wrist extension and then I'm gonna spiral this way, and I'm gonna just very slowly lower down, hover for a moment and put the block down. We're gonna take both blocks into our hands and we're gonna start thinking into what it is to be in a plank. Here I am standing on my hands. Now, let's find that lazy and active cat motion in this position, right?

So I'm gonna shrug my scapula forward and back. We've been doing this action, which is the work of the serratus anterior throughout this whole series. So you're probably pretty clear on this now. Now, I'm gonna keep that slight pushing up and then I'm going to reach back a little bit. I'm gonna let my wrist lengthen and I'm gonna hover my arms just by my cheekbones, right?

We've been working not to kind of go past our face with our arms and then I'm gonna pull myself into my plank position again, my wrist extend, two more times. Inhale. Exhale, pull, really try to get a sense of having your arms equal with each other and having your wrist going to that full extension, scapula is free and not bearing down. I'm working in those armpit muscles. Everybody bend your elbows, just have a moment here, right?

This would be like a pushup, a tricep pushup, spiraling out and then hover and then just lay those blocks down. Great, so let's move on. We're gonna take one block in between our hands. We're gonna work our head lifts now. We're gonna float and hold and head down.

Let's do that one more time. Just getting our nervous system ready for carrying the weight of our head, right? And then I'm gonna float and I'm gonna spin, I'm gonna flex, I'm gonna come into an upper abdominal curl. I'm gonna really pull that chin down and I'm gonna push that yoga block forward. I'm gonna keep that wrap that I'm gonna need when I'm arm standing and I'm gonna come down.

I'm gonna bend my elbows and slide back, little rotator work there and then again. Float, just hold for a moment. See, that might be feeling a lot less intimidating now that you've been practicing this, then curl and then come on in and reach, reach forward and then come on back, bend your elbows and stretch your legs. We're gonna move into roll up. We're gonna use the same arm pattern, right?

We're gonna curl up, we're gonna come forward and again, I am not gonna drop my face below my arms. Inhale to roll back. Exhale, bend the elbows and find this wrapping work, right? My scapula is staying forward towards my chest wall. Inhale.

Exhale, all the way up. Back, we go in. And exhale, keeping that wrap in your scapula, we'll do one more here. Pull yourself up and through and keep, you could either pull out or push into the block, but a little something that activates you and then guys, just sit up here, find this arm frame, squeeze into the blocks and really eject your elbows forward. Let's just get into a little bit of serratus anterior power there.

This would be like a forearm plank, which we will do in this series. And then just bring the blocks down and bring them underneath your feet. Grab your TheraBand and let's come into our bridging flow. We'll come right up and bring the band to our hips. We've been practicing with this, so we're all set and ready to go.

We're gonna inhale and pull up, right, a little bit more force, because I have my feet on the blocks today. I'm gonna really work my pinky side of my fist down and I'm gonna roll myself down. I'm gonna inhale and press up into my bridge. Really working that. Guys, feel your scapula start to migrate back towards your spine, make sure there's a big space between your neck and the floor, right?

You're not smooshing down. You can remember that towel we used early on in the series here and we're gonna go up and let's get a little bit of juice in our triceps. Tighten up, let's pull, eight, seven, this is good for your booty too, right? Six, five, four, three, two, one, let's hold for three, two, one, ooh and roll, roll, roll, roll, roll down and you're gonna just reach your yoga blocks towards the end of your mat and you're gonna roll yourself up to seated. We're gonna go to roll like a ball with the Theraband which we played with a little bit I think in the last class.

I'm working to pull up on the band. The goal here is to just keep my shoulder griddle and my neck pretty, just at ease. I'm pulling up on the band, so that I really use from my lower body to curl up, right? Keeping my gaze at the top of my mouth, inhale, exhale. Exhale.

Two more. This is just such a friendly way to work your ball and down and so we're gonna do rollover today. We haven't worked with rollover yet, but what I wanna say to you is that you gotta do the same thing we've been doing on the shoulder bridge with your arms and your upper back in your rollover. We're gonna use this Theraband right here along the sitting bones. I'm gonna stretch my legs up.

Now listen, I'm really, I'm not pulling down my back. Don't pull down, that's gonna really disrupt the movement. We're gonna press into the mat. Pull out on Theraband. Here we go, into your rollover practice.

Keep that arm frame working, open, flex, roll yourself down. Right, keep your chin off your chest, inhale. Push that arm frame into the floor, right? Arm frame, what I'm saying there is the rectangle that you can imagine that your arms are making across your shoulders, across your hands, right? You're really working that frame in.

You're keeping cervical neutral. Just keep the choreography the same today, just one more pointed toe, open, flex and come down, easy does it. Good and then take the band onto your left foot. Straighten your right foot, pull down, hold your arms back like that and breathe into your hamstring, stretch, inhale. Exhale.

Just keep that upper back activated, right, triceps activated, one more full breath. And then we're gonna go ahead and take that off. Lower the leg, turn it out, walk up the leg, right? We've been here before. Let's take that nice deep bind at the heel or the ankle, drop down, go into the backline stretch, breathe, press the heel into the floor, heel into hands and come up and roll down.

And then let's go ahead and switch legs right away and we're gonna take that band. I'm gonna pull back. We're gonna breathe in and breathe out. Just keep awareness in the upper back. Right, in our back standing work, back planks and whatnot, that upper back area is really key to what supports us in that, not just our up hip curdle, which sometimes I think it feels like it is.

Turn the leg out, up we go. I'm taking a deep bind and I'm going down, trying to stretch all the way through the backline there and up and walk down. Take this knee into your chest, roll yourself up to seated, grab a yoga block. We're gonna work our ab series, working this kind of action in the serratus anterior. You can see what I'm doing, I'm doing that active cat, squeezing in.

I want you to roll back and we're gonna go head in, inhale, one, two, ex. Breathing. Great, all the other usual suspects in toe in terms of, you know, controlling your lumbar spine, using your legs correctly and in, right? Let's lie our head down for a moment, squeeze the hand into the blocks, and then you're gonna curl your chin to your chest and come up, you're gonna hold in, inhale. Exhale, try to touch the block.

In. Ex. Squeeze the block. Keep your shoulder blades activated forward, one more time. Bend your elbows, bend your knees.

Reach back, stretch your legs. Reach your arms forward, roll yourself up. Open your legs, spine stretched forward. Breathe in. Exhale, squeeze into that block, forward.

Inhale, up. Oh yes, squeezing into that block tires out those arms. Two more, exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

And then just come up and just find this frame one more time. Just take a moment to squeeze, reach the elbows, breathe in, Breathe out. And we'll lower that down. Hello Sammy. Okay, so let's move into our quadruped practice now.

So I have this little wrist warmup I wanna do with you, you know, getting our wrists solid so that we can tolerate the extension and weightbearing is really important. So your hands are down and then what you're gonna do is, you're gonna lift up your palms of your hands and then you're gonna drop down. Try to keep your shoulders over your wrists. You're gonna lift up and lower down. I'm gonna back up so you can keep seeing me.

I'm gonna lift. Lower. Lift. Lower. Lift, this is so hard, so if this doesn't feel hard to you, you're not weightbearing enough.

Keep your elbows straight, one more, lift. Lower and rest. Turn your fingers out to a 45 degree angle and then same thing, keep weight, push so your palm lifts. Lower. Lift.

Lower, I'm stealing this from some great yoga teachers I study with and I've learned a lot about getting better at my plank work, because in the yoga practice, they do work on wrist strength, so I'm trying to kind of pass that along in the Pilate's work. Here we go, up. Down. Up. Down, whoa.

Right, so you see how I'm really wanting to pull away, stay on top. Even if you don't go very far, you'll get better at this. And rest. Woo, take your fists together like such, put them down, thumbs tight, and then just slowly drop your head, round your spine, try to straighten your elbows and stretch out those wrist extensors, breathe in. Breathe out.

Open your hands and then just take a moment and just kind of give yourself a little love by switching fingers and give yourself a little grip. So we're talking about being a little bit better practiced in our plank work, right? So our hands and our forearms have a lot to do with arm standing. We're gonna be using our yoga blocks here and we're gonna go into our lazy, active cat, our camel, all the stuff we've been doing. So toes under, let's just start with that little bit of lazy active, right?

So serratus anterior pushups and then float your knees and let's go lazy, active. Lazy, active, remember, when think about tacking the abdominal center back a little, lazy, active. Stay active, now look, push with your hands so you kind of squat back and then pull yourself forward. Your shoulders should come past your wrists, right? Doing a little wrist tolerance work here.

Pull back with your hands, hover over. Go back, use your fingertips. Pull, pull, pull and back. Knees down and back. Now, coming up, we've got that camel, but we're gonna float the camel's paws or whatever they're called.

I don't think that camels have paws, but whatever their hands are called, hooves, and then we're gonna go down. I'm just gonna hover my elbows, so they're equal to my hands and then I'm gonna push back up. I'm in spinal extension and I'm keeping my elbows forward of my shoulders and I'm squeezing, right? I'm trying to keep my elbows narrow. You don't want them out, narrow, hover, and up, now get your toes under.

Go on down and then push yourself out. Find a plank, do lazy, active, lazy, active, so naval center back. Lazy, active. Bend your knees. Pull back into child's pose, head down, take your arms off the blocks.

Turn your palms up and just open and close your hands. (deeply sighing) All right, that's so great, all right? And then, you know, you could do more reps than I'm doing in class, like you could keep going. I'm just trying to build us in. Okay, so now we are gonna do those pushups that I promised.

So we're gonna do three pushups in this plank. I've gotta really squeeze my booty, get my hips extended, shoulders right on top of wrists and then listen, I'm gonna try to go pubic bone, chest, chin, all down, push. All down, push. Elbows graze side body. Push and then I'm gonna lower myself down all the way.

Move my yoga blocks out of the way for right now and take your hands under your forehead. Let's take a deep breath in. And take a breath out. A lot of rigor in the arms there. We're gonna come into swan and I want you to feel the push-pull of your hands, the activation of your shoulders.

You're gonna inhale. You're gonna draw your elbows down. Exhale. Inhale, remember how we lifted our head, all that beginning practice where we worked on extending our cervical spine, right? We wanna bring all those movements now to fruition in this more advanced practice.

Up. And down One more. And down. And then reach your arms forward. Come into this floating position of your elbows, squeeze them towards each other.

Let's go ahead and kick. Single leg kick. Now, you're gonna keep pulling back with your hands, floating your elbows. Pulling back with your hands, floating your elbows. Stay in your arms.

Last set. And lie down. Now, we worked quite a bit on these positions of double leg kick, right? This high squeezing the shoulder blades together, back bend. So let's try to bring that all in.

Let's do two rounds of triple leg kick, double leg kick, here we go. Exhale. Inhale, hold. Ex. In.

Ex. Really feel that upper back coming together. Here's your neck extension. All this stuff we've been training for. Up.

And then just slowly bring your hands, push yourself back and go back into child's pose. Take a breath in. Take a breath out. Just roll yourself up to seated for a moment. Okay, so now we're gonna go into setting up plank and then we're gonna do leg pull front from the Pilates repertoire, right?

So we've got everything we need. I am gonna talk a little bit about setting up your plank from the lower body, so I want you to bring your left leg out a little bit and just stick your sitting bones out and get sort of lazy in your cow, right? And then here's the thing, I want you to feel your hands, get handsy, feel the ball mount of your foot. Now, I want you to draw your ribs as you curl your tail under, and then I want you to push your knee straight so your sitting bone is pushing down, your quads are pushing up and then slide your other leg out. Now, lift your heels, lower.

There's that wrist tolerance, pulling back with your hands. Here we go, one. Down. Forward. Back and down.

Forward, back and down, hi Sammy. Forward, back and down and knees down and head down. Roll up. I also love to do that on my yoga blocks. I didn't do have this on our yoga blocks today, but you can kind of up the ante there being up high.

I think we'll do that in the next class. So let's come around and before we go into sort of working with back planks, let's just come back into a little bit of our seated practice. So we're gonna bring our yoga blocks together and we're gonna get our arm weights and we're gonna sit. Now, back planking requires us to have a pretty command of that scapular retraction we've been working on for this whole series, so let's just make sure we've got that, right? It also requires us to have just a strong shoulder girdle altogether.

So let's start with our presses. I'm gonna watch that I don't overly arch my back. I always will wanna do that, so I'm gonna press up, hold. And pull down. Right and when you might think like, oh, this is nothing, you know, this is only three pounds or whatever, but we're not like in a weightlifting contest here, we're just trying to really start to feel what it is to manage the force and like not lose our trunk and not lose our ability to kind of maintain the integrity of our shoulders.

Right and then we've got some bicep curls. I'm gonna straighten arms. One. Two. Three.

Four, and if you feel like upping the weight for something like bicep curls, that's great. I have five pound weights behind me. I use those all the time for this series. And here. Now, I wanna go into the preliminary arms, right, where you're going squeeze the shoulder blades together and back in.

Now, you see that my chest wall does have to come forward a little, but I'm not like overarching here. So you wanna wrap your scapula without ditching into like a big, massive cow spine. Now hold the scapula together and just hold that and then stretch up and hold and then bring your arms forward. Hold. Find that sort of feeling of plank and bring your weights down.

All right, let's do a little bit of seated rowings and we'll do them without the weights, just to get range of motion back there. So you can pretend you're on your reformer, where if you know that you're gonna roll back just a little bit, push your arms forward and then here's really why I'm doing this. Dive around, turn your arms in. Massively internally rotate. Thumbs together or hands together, I'm gonna go thumbs and then wrap your scapula together.

Now sit up in a way that you feel length through your head, almost like the crown, head and fingers are reaching from each other. This is where your arms have to be doing for your back plank work and then you're gonna bring your hands around, turn your palms, reach forward, stack up, let's go back. We're gonna do this twice more, just sort of getting into controlling that range. We're gonna go reach back, I'm gonna reach head. Now listen, when I separate my hands, they're not catapulting away, I'm controlling my upper back muscles to do that.

Roll back. Right, all the other stuff, like you can pull your tummy in if you want, whatever that is, just, you know, keeping your strong sense of your alignment, your trunk and reach around and stack yourself. Up. All right, let's move into our back plank practice and I have this really nice kind of trick for you that has really changed my back practice, my plank practice and a lot of the people in my classes have been working on this, it's been very helpful. I also learned this from my fabulous yoga teacher, Lindsey Asham.

So I'm gonna start in a little bit of a slump here, right? And the reason is because to come into my table bridge, I need to get my shoulder blades together, which means I need to get my chest wall up, right, that's what we did in triple leg kick and then I'm gonna peel my myself up. My hips are gonna be able really just soar up, because my chest went up first. Breathe in. Breathe out.

And then I'm gonna look straight out the window, my pretty Brooklyn courtyard and I'm gonna slump down. Again, press into the feet. Open chest wall, pull pelvis through, stand down in hand, squeeze scapula, let your head drop back. I'm nestling my head right into my trap, my big upper trap muscles. Well, my upper traps aren't really that big, but you know what I mean.

And come down and rest, all right, let's move into the big back plank from Pilates, leg pull back. We're not gonna add the kicks today, we're just gonna work on the position, but let's go from this slouched position and then watch how I do this. I'm going chest. Then pelvis up. Breathe in.

Breathe out. I'm gonna flex back to help myself come down for my knees. Good, twice more. Chest first. Tush second, breathe in.

Breathe out. Come on down. Right, isn't that like the best trick ever? Last time. And sit down.

Cross your legs and let's just stretch out the upper back, Eagle wrap your arms, I think we this in yoga and just drop your head. (breathing deeply) Yeah, that's a lot of good information there. My shoulder girdle, breathing. Right, so it definitely, you know, it takes strength to get good at these things, but more than strength in a way, it just takes these stepping stones, right, this organization, this understanding of sort of biomechanically what we need to do to get into those really deep positions of arm standing. Let's just finish up with some nice, oh, actually we have one more big arm stand to do.

Let's come on down and we're gonna go into bicycle and scissors. So the bicycle and scissors arms, right, actually, let's do this. Let's put our feet down for a second and come on into a bridge and then let's do a bind. Let's take our hands together, right? And wrap your shoulder blades back fully.

Right, this is a yoga sort of style bridge. But the reason this is important, is this is what your upper back needs to be doing to help support that scissors and bicycle, right? So we'll separate the arms. We'll come down, we'll keep that in mind. Maybe even keep it activated a little bit, come up and over, find your pelvis and then here we go, scissors.

Right, and now I'm really in my upper back, bicycle, and I'm not falling through. There's no part of my spine or neck touching the mat, I am fully arm standing. Hands down. Roll it down, feet down, arms up. Let's go into teaser.

Up. And down. And up, whatever teaser you want, this is just kind of give us a nice flow and up and cross your legs. Hands on your knees and I think I wanna finish with boomerang since we just have like all of those skills in us from the practice. So cross your legs, right leg on top, pick it up, there's our teaser.

Here's our rollover. We've got our arms and then here's that rowing. Let's get it together. Let's find that wrap and then let's control that moment around. Good criss-cross apple sauce at the back, up we go, bringing around, wrap, wrap, wrap, stay in your upper back.

That's what helps me lower my legs so slowly actually. is that I'm hoisted up in that back. One more time. Around. Wrap.

Down. Stretch and release. Reach your arms up, dorsiflex your ankles, maybe grab your yoga blocks here, come into forward bend. Breathing in and out. And just take your time.

Just come up to a cross leg seat for a moment and just close your eyes. Just let your breath come back to its natural resting state. Feel the energy pulses. And we're finished. Good job and thanks for joining.

I'll see you in class six.


2 people like this.
Loved this class.  But also LOVE your cat! 
Saskia F
3 people like this.
I don't know what just happened but in the middle of this class a muscle around my heart started to play up and I got an emotional release. I guess the arms are indeed the extension of the heart as I learned in anatomy trains (fascia). So thank you sooooooo much for this! 
Ruth S
1 person likes this.
Such an interesting class and loved doing the wrist exercises which helps both my Pilates and yoga. Thank you Cara. 
Always appreciate it when a Pilates instructor is able to bring the contribution of the scapulae into an exercise.  Cara cues to hold that shoulder control during the fold-over of Boomerang and not just let the hands fly apart.  Gave me a new muscular action to this familiar but complex exercise.  Loved it!
Cathryn D
I loved this class! Thank you so much for the wonderful detail and pace. My Teaser and Boomerang felt almost (well, *almost*) effortless -- and very powerful. :) I look forward to repeating this class. Thank you, Cara.
I wish you could throw Sammy his toy. He knows what a genius his mom is. Great classes.
Thank you Cara. I've been having some elbow tendinitis & this really felt so wonderful. I am very hypermobile in my elbow joint, so cue about keeping the upper arm externally rotated was helpful. Just love the yoga blocks and all the wrist attention. Plus Sammy visit put a smile on my face💜
Katarina G
Amazing class and excellent series ! Great explanations ! Even after years of experience with pilates, it's helping me so much my practice !
Lina S
My favorite class of the series. The work with the blocks is really helpful. 
1 person likes this.
Awesome class, thanks for all these great tips, and love your cat!
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